Tag Archives: cross country

Year in Review: 2014

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I can hardly believe it’s already 2015, can you? 2014 was quite a year, I hardly know how to sum it up. For brevity’s sake, let’s go with some good ol’ bullet points.

2014 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 92 or so
  • books read: too many to count — some for fun and lots for my MA course
  • miles run: 549 (quite a lot less than last year, due to hip/knee issues)
  • miles cycled: 2,028.65 (mostly commuting in London, but a decent amount of road cycling in the first half of the year)
  • courses completed: 2 (1 MA in English & 1 DELTA course)
  • countries been in: England, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Germany, USA
  • weddings attended: 2

Looking back on my intentions for 2014, I more or less achieved most of them, although things like improving my German and staying in better touch with friends and family could always be worked on. My main intention for 2015 is to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and my other hobbies like cooking. That comes with some sub-intentions, like building up my running mileage and speed without getting injured.

In some blog-related reflecting, here are two listicles of my top posts — via views and via my opinion — from 2014:

The 10 most popular posts in 2014 (your favorites?):

My 10 favorite posts/moments in 2014 (in no particular order):

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2015

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Race Recap: SEAA Cross Country Championships, Parliament Hill

Note to self: next year, do not sign up to race every weekend for five weeks in a row. Less than a week after a great 10-mile road race, I was feeling less-than-enthusiastic to race again, but nonetheless dragged — well, cycled — myself over to Parliament Hill for the South of England Athletic Association’s (SEAA — the same organization that put on the London XC Champs in November) Cross Country Championships. This race featured similar Parliament Hill terrain, but the course was longer than November’s: up to 8km from 6km for the women, and the poor men had to run 15km instead of the usual 8km!

Remind me why I torture myself with this? Oh, right, for the muddy legs the glory, of course.

Anyone have a chisel to get the mud off? Photo credit: ESM.

Anyone have a chisel to get the mud off? Photo credit: ESM.

This weekend’s course had been graced with quite a bit of rain over the past week or so, which meant ankle-deep bogs — more like mud soup — at many points, and thick, sticky (and smelly) mud at others. Only on the two or three flat and dryish sections did I feel as if I were actually running forwards…until I would hit another deep patch and be slowed back down to a slog.

In a word, the course was horrible. Worse than the most recent Met League outing. And did I mention it was longer than usual? At least we had some sunshine during the race. But the ground conditions, coupled with my trying-not-to-get-burned-out brain, made it a tough race. I swear, only sheer willpower kept me moving and enabled me to finish (final time: 42:07 for the hilly, muddy 8km/5mi course). Others probably felt similarly — it wasn’t pretty, but we got through it. Well done, everyone! It certainly was a sight to see/be part of so many runners swarming across the playing fields and up Parliament Hill at the start.

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Recipe: Smitten Kitchen’s Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Since I cannot contribute driving to cross country and road races, I’ve taken it upon myself to provide post-race treats for the club-mates who generously let me snag a spot in their cars. So far this season, I’ve shared my granola and easy energy bars, both of which received praise and recipe requests. For last weekend’s post-Met League cross country treat, I decided to make some sweet-yet-relatively-healthy oatmeal raisin cookies (if you want über-healthy, make these banana-oat snack “cookies” instead). Of the few recipes I had bookmarked, the smitten kitchen one looked the best, and I fortunately had all of the ingredients on hand — not to mention that smitten kitchen recipes almost always turn out amazingly well, so I knew it’d be hard to mess these up.

IMG_5250

I didn’t make too many adjustments to Deb’s already perfect recipe. My cookies didn’t turn out as thick as hers, despite the fact that I chilled the dough for half an hour before baking the cookies. I used big, juicy “flame raisins” (they’d been the cheapest at Tesco) and all the walnuts I had around — feel free to use more or fewer, or leave them out, depending on your preferences.

 

The cookies turned out beautifully: crisp edges, chewy insides. Divine — and addicting. They got rave reviews from my running club-mates (glad you all liked them!). Now, what to make for the next race…

What are your favorite post-race or post-exercise refueling treats?

Smitten Kitchen’s Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (very slightly adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 16-18 medium cookies)

Ingredients

  • 115g (1/2 cup = 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 125g (2/3 cup) brown sugar, packed (I used dark brown)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 95g (3/4 cup) plain/all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt
  • 120g (1.5 cups) rolled oats
  • 120g (1 cup) raisins
  • optional: 45-60g (1/2 – 3/4 cup) walnuts, chopped

Procedure

  • In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir this into the wet mixture, then add the oats, raisins, and walnuts and stir until just combined.
  • Optional: Chill the dough for 20-40 minutes in the fridge.
  • When the dough is done chilling, preheat the oven to 175C (350F).
  • Place tablespoon-sized balls of dough on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, then bake for 9-12 minutes or until the edges are golden-brown. Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring.

Enjoy!

Race Recap: Met League #4, Horsenden Hill

Saturday’s Met League cross country race at Horsenden Hill was the toughest yet. Though the hills weren’t as steep as at Ally Pally, the mud was thicker and deeper and the terrain was more uneven: there were lots of little bumps and divots, which were tough on the feet and ankles. I was grateful for my strong legs and good balance on the slick and uneven course.

This is what the entire race terrain was like. Photo credit: ESM

This is what the entire race terrain was like. (Those are my legs in the foreground. Clearly I need to work on my foot-knee tracking — ugh!) Photo credit: ESM

Luckily, the crisp, sunny conditions made the sopping terrain a bit more bearable. Everyone was caked in mud up to and past their knees at the end — some all the way up to the face, thanks to a crowded start and narrow trails. I rinsed my spikes, socks, and capris in multiple buckets of water before hanging them up to dry.

Post-race: note the mud-covered legs. Photo credit: Caroline W

Post-race: note the mud-covered legs. Photo credit: Caroline W

The race itself went well for me. I tried to go out a little faster than usual and was able to consistently pick people off throughout the race. The last third of the final hill was really tough, as I slogged through deep mud that threatened to suck off my spikes at every step and wondered where exactly the finish was. I almost caught CB at the end but she held me off by just two seconds! If the race had been 100 meters longer, I may have caught her…but she ran a great race, despite claiming to have gone out too fast — clearly it worked in her favor.

The rabbling from the men was great, as usual — someone kept yelling to me, “You’re not even trying!” That made me laugh and helped me dig in and keep pushing.

There was a great Heathside women’s turnout, with 24 of us and many strong performances. As usual, I finished about in the middle of the Heathsiders (13th/24, same as at Ally Pally) and of the race as a whole — actually it was my best overall finish in cross country so far this season: I was 75th/152 women finishing. Times don’t mean much in cross country, especially with the course conditions, but I finished the 6km (3.73mi) race in 28:53 (7:45/mile).

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Next up, I have four races in the next four weeks (crazy? Possibly): Fred Hughes (10mi), Southern XC Champs (8km), Watford Half Marathon (13.1mi), Met League cross country #5 (6km).

Met League, previously: Met League #1Met League #2Met League #3

Year in Review: 2013

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr / Guten Rutsch! З Новим Роком!

2013 was a year full of changes and new experiences for me, like moving to a new country/city, getting an English teaching certificate, and starting an MA program (back to university after three years out). My German improved — and my Ukrainian waned. I also joined an amazing running club in my area of London and was able to spend much of the summer at home in the States with my family and F. Overall, 2013 was a really good year. Here are some more fun statistics summing up the year:

2013 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 155
  • books read: 19 for fun, plus >30 for my MA (including some short stories/poetry/essays)
  • visitors hosted in London: ~19
  • miles run: 931.89 (76.71 miles less than in 2012, but I cycled and swam more in 2013 so overall probably racked up more mileage)
  • qualifications received: 1 Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
  • countries been in: England, Belgium, Germany, USA
  • memories made: too many to count

Are you satisfied with your 2013?

Looking back, I am satisfied to have achieved most of my intentions for 2013: learning my way around London, living frugally, cycle-commuting, “me” time, exercise time, healthy eating, starting an MA program, and staying in touch with people . I didn’t take advantage of as many free/inexpensive opportunities as I could have, but we did visit quite a few of London’s free museums and markets with visitors.

Here is my non-exhaustive list of intentions for 2014, in no particular order:

  • Successfully complete my MA degree
  • Expand my skill set in teaching/tutoring, writing, and editing work
  • Keep improving my German
  • Stay healthy and fit:
    • Run a half marathon or two and take part in as many running club events as I can
    • Get more comfortable with road cycling by riding or spinning consistently
  • Keep exploring London via free/inexpensive activities
  • Get a job and work visa after my MA so I can stay in London
  • Stay in better touch with friends/family in all parts of the world (make better use of Skype, WhatsApp, etc.)

What are your intentions for 2014?

Race Recap: Met League #3, Ally Pally

With rain on and off all week, buildup to Saturday’s Met League race at Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace) — my club’s “home turf” — was filled with speculation about how muddy and lake-like the course might be. “Heavy rain” was forecast for Saturday; it would probably be a messy one.

It didn’t end up raining too much during the race, but the day was gray and windy. We had a massive headwind during much of the second half of the race; the wind drove the misting rain into our faces as we battled up the big hill for the second time. Luckily, it wasn’t actually too cold — about 10C (50F) — so I opted for shorts and a long-sleeved base layer under my Heathside vest.

Standing and waiting for the start, all of a sudden I got nervous. “Let’s just get this over with,” I said to J. But as soon as we were off through the mud, a huge smile came to my face as I realized the absurdity of 152 women slogging across muddy grass for 6km. Laughing must’ve relaxed me, as well as thinking we’re going to be wet and muddy anyway, so I might as well enjoy this!

J and I stuck together, looping around the pond twice — while passing people pretty consistently — before heading up the dreaded Ally Pally hill for the first time. We caught C and C at the bottom of the hill and started up: “Just pretend it’s the roller coaster,” I breathed to J. (NB: The “roller coaster” is the hilly tempo run we do every other Thursday evening, adding five minutes every month.) Small steps and big arms going downhill, I reminded myself as we reached the top and plunged downwards. I lost J at some point here and ended up running the rest of the race pretty much on my own.

We had one more loop of the pond, then up and down the hill to the finish. Stay steady here, I reminded myself on the last loop of the pond, you’ve still got to get up the big hill again. Tip-toeing through the small bogs that had formed, so as not to lose my shoes, I rounded the pond and headed into the wind and rain for the last ascent and final downhill. Another silly grin spread over my face as the rain hit me. You’ve run in worse conditions than this, TammelaYou love running in the rain. It’s true — the wind I could’ve done without, but I do love a good cleansing run in the rain.

The last run up the hill was pretty brutal — baby steps, I told myself — yet I still managed to pass a few people on the ascent. “Now stay focused,” I said out loud to myself when starting downhill. The last few minutes of the race can be the toughest, especially in cross country when your concentration begins to wane. Do not fall. Across the fields on a slight decline, the finish was in sight as I kicked it into high gear for the last push. That paid off, as I passed three women right before the finish.

Final result: I ran 28:23 for the muddy 6km/3.73mi course (7:36/mile pace). I was the 79th woman of 152 and the 13th Heathsider of 24 running.

Overall, I am really pleased with my race. Despite the pre-start nerves, once on course I felt relaxed and strong. It was thrilling to splash through water and mud — “This is real cross country,” I said to J afterwards. It makes you feel alive. As always, the rabbling from the Heathside men and other Heathside-affiliated spectators was fantastic — it definitely helped me keep going and chasing people in front of me. Thanks, everyone, and great running all!

Next up: a couple of easy weeks over the holidays, then ramping up in January for four race weekends in a row: cross country, 10 miler, cross country, half marathon. Should be a fun and busy running month.

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Race Recap: London Cross Country Championships, Parliament Hill

Ah, Parliament Hill. You offer great views of the center of London but you are a b**** to run up! At least that’s how many people made it out to be, leading up to the London Cross Country Championships this weekend. In reality, it wasn’t as impossibly uphill as I’d imagined. There were quite a few ups, but there were also a good deal of downs and the course itself was quite lovely, snaking its way around Parliament Hill and Kenwood on Hampstead Heath. (It didn’t hurt that the day was lovely, too: mid-40sF and sunny.) The course was also a pretty technical: there were a few mud holes — though they weren’t as bad as some years have been, I was told — and lots of bumpy/hole-y grass sections.

Because this race was a championship, each club had to enter specific names beforehand. I didn’t get my name in early enough, but a few of the ladies who had entered didn’t end up running. I ran as “CM” rather than as myself, which just means the result isn’t under my name.

photo credit: Steve W.

photo credit: Steve W.

Earlier last week I read a short article on cross country and hill running, which talked about how to effectively run downhill. I knew that it’s important to let gravity help you down the hills, but what I learned from the article was to use a short, quick stride rather than let your strides get long and overreaching as you barrel down. I tried the short, quick downhill stride technique at Parliament Hill and it definitely made my feel faster and more controlled. Instead of lengthening my stride downhill and then having to adjust it when the course flattened out again, I found myself readjusting to flattening — or rising — terrain more quickly after a downhill, since my turnover was still fast. Shorter downhill strides also stressed my quads less and helped me stay balanced on the tricky terrain.

The finish was longer than I anticipated: we ran down through a chute but then had to turn left around a corner and still had 150-200m until the finish line. Thanks to teammate D’s cheering (“Come on, Tamm!”), I was able to rev up and have a great kick, passing one woman and then pushing to catch another about 5 meters before the finish. I finished the 6km (3.73mi) course in about 28:08 (7:32/mi pace) — not as fast as last week but given that the course was tougher and I was running on sore legs, I’m pretty pleased with the result.

Apparently all of the Heathside women did well: our “A” team finished second in their division, and our “B” and “C” teams were first in their divisions. (Don’t ask me how the divisions/scoring work — I’m still trying to figure that out.) Well done, ladies!

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Recipe: Easy Homemade Energy Bars

Do any of you keep a long “recipes to try” list? I do, in the form of (probably way too many) bookmarks in my browser. Homemade energy bars have been on my list for a while, and I finally got around to whipping them up on a quiet Friday evening, so I could take some along on Saturday for post-cross country race refueling.

Though I’d read multiple blog posts on how to make energy bars and understood the basic ingredients (dates are the one mandatory requirement) and technique, I decided to look at The Kitchn for more specific guidance. All you need is 1 cup of dates, 1 cup of nuts (your choice), and 1 cup of dried fruit (your choice). You can also add spices — I forgot, but next time I’ll sprinkle in some cinnamon and may also throw in a handful of oats to give the bars a bit more heft.

Homemade energy bars are so quick to make and taste delicious. They’re all-natural — just nuts and dried fruit — so you’re getting a lot of nutrition and energy in just a couple of bites. Two of my running club mates liked them so much that they asked for the recipe (here it is, J and B!).

Easy Homemade Energy Bars (adapted from The Kitchn; makes 12-16 small bars)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dates, pitted
  • 1 cup dried fruit of choice (I used 1/2 cup dried apricots + 1/2 cup raisins)
  • 1 cup nuts of choice (I used 1/2 cup peanuts + 1/2 cup almonds)
  • optional: cinnamon or other spices, to taste
  • optional: 1/8-1/4 cup oats

Procedure

  • Put all the ingredients in a food processor.
  • Blend until everything breaks down and starts to form into a ball, 1-3 minutes. (You may have to stop periodically to scrape the mixture down from the sides or off the blade.)
  • Place the sticky mass on a piece of plastic wrap on a flat surface, and use your fingers to press it out into a rectangle — press less for thicker bars, more for thinner ones.
  • Wrap the rectangle in plastic and chill for at least one hour, then cut into bars and store in the fridge or freezer.

Enjoy!

Race Recap: XC Met League #2, Stevenage

Saturday 9 November dawned gray and rainy. It’ll be a wet cross country race, I thought. Luckily, it didn’t actually rain much during our race, but it was a nippy 46F (7-8C) with the characteristic damp London chill in the air. I decided to race in capris with a long sleeved base layer under my Heathside singlet and almost wore gloves.

Despite the less-than-inviting conditions, the second Met League cross country race at Stevenage was good fun. The course consisted of two nearly identical laps: around the undulating perimeter of a grassy open field, with a roughly 1km section through the woods, which had some nice mud holes by the time the women’s race went off.

The women’s field of runners seemed bigger than last month’s Claybury fixture. It seemed faster, too, as evidenced by our (Heathside’s) top runner finishing a mere 14th after coming in 5th in Claybury. To be fair, this course was also much less hilly — you really can’t compare cross country times on different courses, since each race has such different terrain.

photo credit: Sarah G.

Post-race. Photo credit: Sarah G.

My race was much more enjoyable this time around, in large part thanks to an old pair of cross country spikes that a fellow Heathsider generously gave me. It was really nice not to have to worry as much about slipping; I could be a lot more aggressive with the added security of spikes. I pushed pretty hard and was definitely feeling it by the last kilometer; even so, I had a good short kick and even passed a woman right before the finish.

Funnily enough, I finished in the exact same place as last month, both for the whole race (85th, but 165 rather than 152 at Claybury) and among the Heathside women (10th, of 20). I ran over two minutes faster this month: 27:17 for 6km (3.73mi), which makes for an average pace of 7:19/mi. A satisfying race and result; my physical and mental game came together well.

As always, it was fantastic to have the Heathside men “rabbling” (i.e., cheering us on) at key points around the course. Thanks, guys! I’m already looking forward to the next one…

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Race Recap: Cross Country! Met League #1, Claybury

As I’ve mentioned before, my running club is very active in the London-area road racing and track and field scene. Add cross country to that, too! Throughout the fall (autumn, here) and winter, there are competitive cross country leagues for clubs around London. There’s an enthusiastic core of serious XC runners in my club; they attempt to recruit the rest of us, particularly for the monthly Met League races. Apparently the scoring is such that merely having tons of runners in the race can boost the overall team result, regardless of how fast the runners finish — each person scores points.

Since some of the people I regularly train with also participate in cross country season, I decided to give it a go. Why not? There’s no entry fee, as long as you’re a member of a club. Each Met League race is held at a different park in the London area; it’s a good opportunity to run on new territory (and terrain!).

So off I went to Claybury Park with J, G, and B on Saturday around noon, for our 1:55pm 6km (3.73mi) cross country race. After a short warmup, we gathered with our fellow Heathside women at the start line, the horn went off, and away we ran!

photo by George S.

photo credit: George S.

The course for us was one small loop and the two (identical) big loops. Since I’d never run cross country before this, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of terrain but assumed there’d be grass and mud and hills. There were, and said mud made me wish I had XC spikes, as I decided to run this first race in my regular running shoes (known as “trainers” here in the UK). Once we finished one big loop, I knew what to expect and where the terrain would be dry/flat enough for me to push my pace in my non-spiked shoes: a few sections of paved paths, a couple of flat grassy stretches, and the big up and down through the woods. (At least our Thursday hill training club sessions seem to be paying off — I definitely passed people going uphill.)

With 1 or 2km to go, I felt my focus fading and had to really grit my teeth to stay on track — cross country running takes much more mental focus than road running, since the terrain is uneven/hilly/slippery. You have to pay attention if you don’t want to fall! Keeping that in mind, 6km felt like a lot more than 6km, and I was happy to finish under 30 minutes (29:22, which is 7:52/mile pace), as the 85th woman (of 152) and the 10th Heathside woman (of 19 in our race).

Overall, I enjoyed my first experience of cross country. My favorite part — aside from running on pretty wooded trails — was the great team atmosphere. Since the men raced after us, they were ever-present on key parts of the course to cheer us on and ring their cowbells! That certainly helped keep me going. Hopefully I’ll get my hands on some spikes soon, so I’ll run faster at the next fixture.

Next up on my racing calendar: Met League #2 in November, and a 5-mile road race in December.

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